3TFO: Chargers @ Eagles, Week 2
You can’t start much faster than what both the Eagles and Chargers did in their respective games last Monday night. Philadelphia had quite possibly the most talked about first half of football during the entire opening week of the 2013 season. New head coach Chip Kelly came out with his guns blazing and had his offense fire off a staggering 53 plays in the first half, while his team built a multiple-score lead. The fireworks calmed down a bit in the second half as the Eagles nursed the lead just enough to hang on for a 6-point win. Kelly’s offensive strategy and mainly his team’s tempo was a hotly debated topic all week and it will be something to keep an eye on as the Chargers visit Philadelphia Sunday for the Eagles home opener.
San Diego wasn’t as successful as Philadelphia in maintaining a three-score lead in the late game Monday night. Quarterback Phillip Rivers and company squandered a three-touchdown lead at home and left plenty of doubt as to how much success they will have in 2013. After an extremely promising start, turnovers and poor decisions led to an all too familiar result for the Chargers. San Diego will have to move on quickly from last week, flying across the country on a short break to face the Eagles. The last four visiting teams to play in Philadelphia for the Eagles’ home opener have gone on to win the Super Bowl, a trend the Chargers will struggle to continue if they play anywhere near the way they did in the second half of their first game. Here are three key matchups to keep an eye on in this Week 2 game.
Jason Peters vs. Dwight Freeney
There may not be a more important player to the Philadelphia offense than Jason Peters. After missing all of 2012 with a ruptured Achilles, Peters is back to his old dominant self so far in 2013. His athleticism and ability have been a perfect fit for the new Eagles offense. However, there is another revitalized veteran player on the field that will be out to get the better of Peters on Sunday. Outside linebacker Dwight Freeney is in his second season of a conversion to pass rushing outside linebacker after a very successful stint at 4-3 defensive end. Freeney got off to a great start last week, tallying nine total pressures on the quarterback (6 hurries, 2 hits and a sack) in just 34 pass rushing opportunities. That made him the most productive pass rushing 3-4 outside linebacker in the league for Week 1.
It will be a true battle of strengths — in 2011, the last season that Peters played, he finished the year ranked fourth in the NFL in Pass Blocking Efficiency. That year he gave up just 21 total pressures in 570 pass blocking opportunities. Peters’ task of blocking Freeney is paramount because of how long Eagles quarterback Michael Vick tends to hang onto the ball. Last week he averaged 3.33 seconds to throw, longest in the league and his QB rating dropped from 136.0 when not under pressure, down to 81.6 when under pressure. If Freeney can get the best of Peters on a few plays he can really disrupt the Philadelphia offense and slow down the high tempo they desire.
Eddie Royal vs. Brandon Boykin
With multiple-receiver sets becoming more mainstream than ever for NFL offenses, the slot position is quickly becoming one of the most important on the field. For San Diego that receiver is Eddie Royal. Against the Texans, Royal ran 18 of his 21 routes from the slot and five of his team high six targets came on plays when he was lined up as the slot receiver, including one for a touchdown. With injuries depleting the Chargers’ receiving corps, and tight end Antonio Gates no longer the reliable target he once was, Rivers is looking to Royal more and more. On the six passes he threw to Royal in Week 1, his QB rating was 100.0.
Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin will accept the challenge of defending Royal in the slot this week. Due to an injury to starting cornerback Bradley Fletcher, Boykin might get the start on the outside, but he is still expected to be the slot defender in three-WR sets. Boykin, now in his second season, has carved out a niche as a slot corner for the Eagles. In Week 1 he lined up against the slot a team high 20 times and was thrown at eight times. On those eight passes the quarterback had a rating of 63.5 and Boykin had an interception. If Boykin can neutralize Royal from the slot and take away the easy short throws from Rivers, it will go a long way in keeping San Diego out of the end zone.
Eagles Interior Offensive Line vs. Chargers Run Defense
The biggest misconception of the offseason was that the Chip Kelly offense was a pass-based offense. The truth is it’s a spread attack that features the running game. Kelly deployed his running attack on Monday night and it couldn’t have gone better. The Eagles’ offensive line created massive lanes for LeSean McCoy and helped pave the way to victory. The combination of Jason Kelce at center and Evan Mathis at guard looks like a lethal one. Kelce was the highest graded center during the preseason and he kept the momentum going into the opener to emerge as the highest graded center in Week 1. His partner to the left, Mathis, reclaimed his spot as the top graded guard from 2012 by posting the highest mark last week. Both of them obtained most of their high grades in the run game.
Being the sixth-ranked run defense from a year ago, there is hope the Chargers can slow down the Eagles’ rushing attack — but there is also plenty of reason for concern. Nose tackle Cam Thomas was on the field for 19 running plays and didn’t make any stops, one of only four players who had that many opportunities and failed to tally a stop. Behind him, the two inside linebackers will need to have big weeks to contain McCoy and the Eagles’ rushing attack. Making his first start for the injured Manti Te’o, Bront Bird made seven tackles in 26 plays against the run against Houston and is 11th in the NFL in Run Stop Percentage among inside linebackers after one week. His counterpart Donald Butler was sixth in the league back in 2011 in run stop percentage, but fell to 20th last season and made only two tackles in the run game last week. Butler and Bird, with the help of Thomas, will need to avoid the downfield blocks of Mathis and Kelce to prevent big plays in the run game on Sunday.
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